Vaesen Character Generation

2021-06-03

(approx. 1700 words)

Much like I did with Coriolis, I’d like to walk through creating a single character in Vaesen. As the subtitle “Nordic Horror Roleplaying” suggests, the setting of Vaesen is an anachronistic 19th century Scandinavia, wherin human technological and social change encroaches upon supernatural creatures of Nordic myth and legends – the vaesen, who are very displeased. Previously I commented on the preview and the Alpha rules. At some point I’ll do an overview and/or “non-review” of the final rules, but as far as I can tell nothing dramatic has changed since the Alpha.

Since relationships with other player characters is an important step, I’ll assume the full party consists of the following:

Character Generation Steps

As the text box on page 18 neatly summarizes, a player must define the following for their character:

  1. Archetype: one of ten templates that shape most of the decisions below.
  2. Age: a basic age range (Young, Middle Aged, or Old) which determines the pool of Attribute and Skill Points.
  3. Name: the character’s name1.
  4. Attribute Points: values for the four basic characteristics.
  5. Points for skills and Resources: values for the 12 skills, plus Resources which is an abstraction of wealth and credit rating.
  6. Talent: a special ability appropriate to the Archetype.
  7. Motivation: the characters reason for investigating vaesen.
  8. Trauma: an incident that gave the character The Sight2.
  9. Dark Secret: a recurring problem that crops up in adventures.
  10. Relationships: how the character feels about other PCs.
  11. Mementos: a significant item from the character’s past that helps them recover from a Condition3.
  12. Equipment: less significant gear useful for adventuring.

Motivation, Trauma, Dark Secret, and Relationships are purely role-playing aids, with no mechanical effects. Players are free to come up with their own, but for our purposes I’ll stick with ones suggested by the Archetype.

Archetype and Name

The core book provides nine mostly self-explanatory Archetypes: Academic, Doctor, Hunter, Occultist, Officer, Priest, Private Investigator Servant, Vagabond, and Writer.

Occultist sounds interesting. From the description it could fit a foremer academic who’s fallen down a paranormal rabbit hole or a lifelong practitioner of witchcraft. From the suggested names I’ll pick Valentina Konradsson Konradsdottir.

Age, Attributes, Skills, and Resources

Valentina is Middle Aged, which gives her 14 total Attribute Points and 12 points to spend on Skills and Resources4. Young characters have more Attribute Points and fewer Skill Points, Old characters are the reverse.

Vaesen’s four attributes are:

An Occultist’s main Attribute is Precision4, which means I can raise it to 5 if I want; the rest can be no higher than 4. The minimum for each attribute is 2. After a little thought I’m going to go with the following:

Physique Precision Logic Empathy
2 5 3 4

Vaesen defines twelve skills, rated from 0 to 5, each based on one of the four Attributes. Starting characters can have a maximum of 2 in any skill, except for the Archetype’s “main Skill” which can go up to 3. An Occultist’s main Skill is Stealth4, which (surprise) is based on Precision.

Resources defines how wealthy the character is, rated from 1 to 10. At the start of an adventure, each character rolls their Resources in dice, and the number of successes determines how much they can buy. (Resources also modifies rolls to haggle during an adventure, and deterimines Capital – “free successes” – to simply pay market price.) An Occultist’s Resources start at 1, which is “Destitute”, and go no heigher than 4, which is “Well Off”.

If I’d created a full party, I’d have a better idea of what skills the group needed. For demonstration, I’m going to allocate my points as follows.

Talent

The three talents suggested for Occultists are Conjuring Tricks, Medium, and Strike Fear. All of them suggest plausibly deniable supernatural powers attributed to occultists and witches: mind over matter (or faking it), ESP (or cold reading), and the “evil eye” (or exploiting the subject’s superstitious fears).

For Valentina I’m going to pick Conuring Tricks, which is defined as follows

You can use Stealth instead of Manipulation when performing conjuring tricks to influence people.

In the Beta7 this was called “Magic Tricks”; the wording of this Talent was more vague, and it led to a lot of discussion.8 (And to me drafting a post I’ve since deleted.) To be clear, the basic idea is that the character can perform stage magic, sleight of hand, etc.

For a long time I’ve been intrigued (or sometimes appalled) by the rise of Spiritualism in the 19th century. In the early 20th, Harry Houdini went out of his way to expose fake mediums, while Arthur Conan freaking Doyle neleived wholeheartedly not only in them but the Cottingly Fairies.

I’m also a fan of the “Beyond Belief” segments of The Thrilling Adventure Hour. In the original concept, pastiches of Nick and Nora Charles pull “ghost hunting” scams on the gullible, but also hunt real ghosts and monsters. The sketches quickly devolved into them drinking heavily until someone or something forced their way into their penthouse apartment, whereupon they’d use their real knowledge of the supernatural.

So I’m leaning toward Valentina being a fake psychic who suddenly discovered a real supernatural world actually exists. She still uses her old stage magic skills to fool the rubes, but mostly to get them out of the way while she tracks down vaesen.

Motivation, Trauma, and Dark Secret

As said previously, I’ll just pick among the suggestions.

Motivation: Learning about vaesen.

Trauma: The family farm is being run by a grumpy house nisse.

Dark Secret: Guilty of a heinous crime.

All this suggests the following backstory:

Relationships

From the available options, I’ll choose the following:

It would help if I had a better idea of who these people are, but for now I’ll assume the Soldier is the sort of “man of honor” Valentina desperately needs in her life, the Detective is (necessarily?) secretive and manipulative, and the Hunter’s competence calms Valetina’s underlying anxiety about the vaesen.

Mementos and Equipment

By interacting with a Memento for some period of time, They’re normally rolled randomly. That said, I rolled three different times before I got one that felt appropriate:

To Valentina, the book (which she can’t read) represents the allure of foreign lands, i.e. places far away from the family farm. The “Madame Salome” persona she used in her career as a storefont psychic was inspired by the imagined but wholly fictitious origins and meaning of the book. She doesn’t remember quite where she found (stole?) it, but she’s had it since she was a child.

Looking at the standard equipment for an Occultist, I’ll give Valentina:

Character: The Occultist

Putting this all together, we have the following:

Name: Valentina Konradsdottir

Age (Group): 32 (Middle Aged)

Archetype: Occultist

Attributes: Physique 2, Precision 5, Logic 3, Empathy 4

Skills: Agility (Phy) 2, Manipulation (Emp) 2, Observation (Emp) 1, Stealth (Pre) 3, Vigilance (Log) 2

Resources: 3

Talents: Conjuring Tricks

Motivation: Learning about vaesen.

Trauma: The family farm is being run by a grumpy house nisse.

Dark Secret: Guilty of a heinous crime.

Relationships:

Equipment:

Memento: A book in a foreign language

Next Time

In the next and possibly last post about Vaesen, I’ll give an overview of the system and drill down on what I think are the most interesting bits:


  1. The Archetype suggests options, but if I were GM I’d accept any vaguely Scandinavian name. ↩︎

  2. Vaesen are invisible to mortals without The Sight, which is why society at large doesn’t believe they exist. ↩︎

  3. When characters suffer mental or physical trauma, they gain a Physical or Mental Condition. Each condition imposes a -1 penalty to all mental or physical tasks, as appropriate. After the third Condition of a particular type, further trauma leaves the character Broken: severely debilitated and with a Critical Injury. ↩︎

  4. In this post I’ll use Bold Caps for Attributes, Skills, Resources, Talents, and other mechanical bits. The rulebook uses Capitalization for some names and ALL CAPS (or small caps) for others. ↩︎

  5. Situational awareness, detecting ambushes, following tracks, etc. ↩︎

  6. Observing and understanding human behavior. ↩︎

  7. And in the Archetype description, at least in the edition I have. ↩︎

  8. Beta readers assumed this implied some sort of supernatural power qualitatively if not quantitatively equivalent to the vaesen’s MAGIC rating stated later in the rules. I wrote a whole rant on how giving characters in an investigative horror game access to “real magic”, and opening the door to a “magic system”, was a bad idea. Then I deleted it. To quote Emily Latella, “Never mind.” ↩︎